The Last Exorcism isn’t exactly the most obscure film to be reviewed on Readers Digested. The Last Exorcism is a 2010 American found-footage horror film directed by Daniel Stamm (a director we’ll talk about again shortly, whose directorial work can be spotted in television series’ like Scream and Fear the Walking Dead) and attained a positive reception from critics and moviegoers, garnering nearly seventy million worldwide when the dust settled. The film was so successful it even found a sequel that, due to hindsight and Readers Digested‘s solemn oath not to bash for the sake of bashing, will not be reviewed in fear of snark.
The reason I decided to consider this film was for a couple of different reasons: (1) it’s a film I feel like has been overlooked and (2) I couldn’t remember for certain whether that was just or a snub. Although I couldn’t remember exactly where I landed on the film, I looked forward to revisiting the film and collecting my thoughts.
The film stars Patrick Fabian, Ashely Bell, Iris Bahr, and Louis Herthum. With a script written by Huck Botko and Andrew Gurland, The Last Exorcism is short-and-tidy, clocking out at under ninety minutes in length.
The story follows a reverend from Louisiana named Cotton Marcus who agrees to perform an exorcism on a young girl named Nell whose father suspects she is possessed by Satan himself. This isn’t very out of the ordinary, however, its characters throw a real wrench in the whole operation. Reverend Marcus was brought up with religion, but has become more of a skeptic over the years, denying the existence of demons altogether. Instead, he justifies himself by saying his actions defeat the psychosomatic aspect of individuals who feel they’re being possessed. However, in recent years as the hysteria of exorcisms has resulted in deaths, he now wants to show the phoniness of the spectacle, bringing filmmakers Iris and Daniel to assist him in a documentary.
The film is found-footage, but, I think, avoids a lot of the pitfalls had by other films in the sub-genre, in-terms of camera-work and cutesy (obnoxious) acting is concerned.
I believe The Last Exorcism is a film best enjoyed and approached with a level of blindness on the viewer’s part (not to say it can’t be enjoyed in second viewings, as you’ll find information the second go-around you might have overlooked in hindsight). The Last Exorcism is a horror film, but it isn’t immediately clear if it’s a horror film with supernatural elements or whether it’s a horror-of-personality with hysteria being a driving force behind the motives and behaviors of its characters.
The acting is solid, and, in-fact, it is considerably propelled by the acting performance of Patrick Fabian, whose natural charisma and likability oozes off the screen, creating an organic investment in him that might not have been procured by a different actor. I find that a lot of the criticisms I have with other found-footage fare like Blair Witch, for instance, has to do with the likability of its leads, usually hurt by the filmmakers and their intent at realism. We as humans don’t always say the right thing and don’t come off as glossy or polished as who we see on the screen, but I think it requires a gentle brush in-order to capture authenticity and capture it well. The other actors and actresses involved in the film are amicable as well, with Ashley Bell doing a quiet, timid girl and a demon (or a human’s portrayal of one) well.
This isn’t a film that will scar you for life and, depending on what you’re looking for, it isn’t a film I believe will immerse you in the ways a found-footage film could achieve at its best. In-fact, what had once been a memorable part of The Last Exorcism in my initial viewing, has since lost a bit of its shine – although the end was logical, it could be foreseen, on some-level, from a mile away. The best part of The Last Exorcism, I believe, is in the early-going, with the likability of its lead and the theatrical components of his exorcisms (he has a tape-recorder for demonic sounds and a little cross that can emit smoke by the press of a button), with the later half playing out like satiable horror fare.
The Last Exorcism is restrained and slow-burn, but it manages to walk the tight-rope, entertaining as it builds to its conclusion. It isn’t a tour-de-force, per se, but it is an enjoyable film that doesn’t overstay its welcome, spinning a taut, eerie yarn that delivers well. I’d recommend it.